Reward programs started in small coffee shops, cafes and restaurants all over the world, and Perka wants to replace the physical punchcard system with a newer mobile experience with its iOS and Android apps.

The service targets local merchants who want to reward customers who are regulars. Up until now, you’ve had a physical card that a store would stamp or punch, and once the card filled up you’d get something for free. It’s a pretty simple model and one that’s been around for a long time. Perka is beta testing its service in Portland and Seattle for the time being.

How it works

For a customer, the company touts the apps simplicity.

  • Check-in to the establishment using the Perka app
  • Give an employee your name
  • Collect a stamp towards reward when you pay

Convofy 58 520x223 Perka aims to punch out physical punchcards with mobile app

It sounds simple enough, but we have to wonder how quickly this can be done considering it involves an extra step that is not as fast a simple punch of a card. For example, if there isn’t strong WiFi or 3G signal at a particular place, this might slow things down.

Foursquare has a model that gives customers who check-in a coupon or deal once they’ve visited a few times, but it’s not as memorable as the old punchcard model. There’s something that’s really fun in getting an entire punchcard filled out, especially when you get something for free when you do.

I had a chance to interview Perka Co-Founder Rob Bethge today.

TNW: What about punch cards made you decide to build a mobile experience around them?

App Store Perka1 190x300 Perka aims to punch out physical punchcards with mobile appRob Bethge: Paper punch cards are pretty much one of the only loyalty marketing tools available to small businesses, but they have very mixed results due to their analog nature. Our goal is to build a powerful marketing platform for these local businesses. The humble paper punchcard is the thin edge of the wedge that leads to a meaningful loyalty program.

What merchants need is a capable platform to manage their loyalty programs, the analytics to help them measure success and low-cost technology to make it happen. Given the fact that mobile technology is becoming ubiquitous among consumers, it seemed the obvious choice for us to deliver the Perka service with smartphone apps and text messaging.

TNW: Who is using your service right now, and any stories or stats on what they’ve experienced?

Rob Bethge: We have approximately 50 businesses running Perka today, in the Pacific Northwest. We serve small independent shops and are in discussion with regional chains. One typical example is JazzKats, an independent coffee shop in Portland that has created a loyalty program with three offers to encourage customers to come back in the afternoon for sandwiches and desserts in addition to a coffee drink in the morning. In short, the case study demonstrates that sales are up and that their Perka service is causing a profitable change in customer behavior.

TNW: How easy is it for a business to start using Perka? How much does it cost them?

Rob Bethge: All merchants need to do to get started is to contact us, and we will arrange for a loyalty expert to design a custom program with them. Our pricing is subscription based, and includes the merchant device (an iPod Touch). Merchants pay by the month for as long as they are satisfied with our service and the increased customer visits that the Perka cardless loyalty program delivers.

TNW: What areas do you plan to expand to next?

Rob Bethge: Although originally conceived for small neighborhood cafes, coffee shops and pizza parlors, a wider array of merchant types have contacted us about creating incentive programs for them. We now have all types of businesses in addition to quick service food and beverage, and are pleased to be running programs for toy stores, sports pubs and pool halls.

We will be rolling out the full-service Perka loyalty program over the coming months to cities across the U.S. While an important part of our business model, and service promise, is the direct consulting with the small business owners, we will eventually offer a less involved basic program that will be available for neighborhood merchants anywhere.

TNW: Do you plan on keeping the service simple or do you want to add more gaming and complexity to the notion/idea of Perks/punch cards?

Rob Bethge: What Perka offers is the power of professional marketing tools made accessible for neighborhood merchants. We work with these business owners to create and operate their individual loyalty programs. The set of features that are important to them, that create additional value from their existing loyal customers, is where we are focused. We have a roadmap of additional functionality that we expect will be included over time, that all focus on tools that help shop owners increase the value of their business and deliver better customer service to their loyal customers.

It sounds like the company has a laser focus on loyalty programs without a lot of extra steps or hassle. Perka could help businesses by giving them a better way of tracking who spends the most time in their shop, and could impress a few customers with their advanced technology. The company is currently seeking its first round of funding.

I for one lose punchcards all of the time, whereas I never forget my phone. Hopefully Perka expand to San Francisco soon.